2012 Dodgers Opening Series Preview: San Diego Padres, Basement Dwellers Or Sleepers

The Dodgers open their season at Petco Park in San Diego against the Padres for a four-game series.

Season Series: Dodgers can thank the Padres for that winning record last year. They beat the Padres 13 times, four more than any other team. Final tally 13 -5.


Manager: Buddy Black (388-423) , 2011 (71 - 91)

Marc Normandin of Baseball Nation took a look at the Padres on Tuesday, and liked the direction they were headed.

These three players aren't enough to win on their own, but they are part of a young core that's now in place for a large window of opportunity in the NL West. With loads of prospects coming in, money to spend for the first time in awhile thanks to a new television contract, and this core, the Padres are likely to make everyone forget about their brush with poverty very soon.

Offseason Moves:

The Padres orchestrated a trade you don't see very often when they traded a young cost controlled stud pitcher for two highly touted prospects, a fire balling bullpen piece, and a one time all-star major league pitcher . The deal of the winter sent 24 year old Mat Latos to the Reds for 1st baseman Yonder Alonzo, future catcher Yazmani Grandal, opening day starter Edinson Volquez, and reliever Brad Boxberger. It was quite a haul and quite a gamble. Latos is known commodity, while each of the players coming to the Padres have either yet to make their mark or have stumbled after making their mark.

Heath Bell had been part of the normally stingy Padre bullpen since 2007 accumulating 134 saves during that span but he left via free agency. The new closer for the Padres is expected to be old Rockie nemesis Huston Street who was acquired for former number one pick Nick Schmidt.

The Anthony Rizzo era was short lived. The ex Boston prospect acquired in the Adrian Gonzalez deal was supposed to provide the power for the next few years but after failing miserably in limited at bats in 2011 he was sent packing to the Cubs for fireballing Andrew Cashner.

In an effort to provide some power to the lineup they acquired Carlos Quentin from the White Sox for Pedro Hernandez and Simon Castro. When healthy Quentin should hit some homes runs but they felt the same thing about Ryan Ludwick and that never materialized.

The final deal of the winter that will effect the opening day roster was sending starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc to the Marlins for backup catcher John Baker. I guess the Padres are so loaded with pitching they can simply give away arms for back up catchers.

One other deal that might have a notable impact in 2012 and beyond occurred at the deadline last year when the Padres moved setup man extraordinaire Mike Adams to the Texas Rangers, and received not one but two premium pitching prospects. Twenty one year old left hander Robert Erlin who Baseball HQ has rated as their top pitching prospect. and 2 year old Joe Weiland. I expect to see both get some action at some point in 2012 for the Padres.

The Padres current rotation is no great shakes but they are accumulating arms. Erlin, Casey Kelly, Keyvius Sampson, Joe Weiland, and Andrew Cashner are a few of the names to keep an eye on.

Key Additions: Yonder Alonzo, Andrew Cashner, John Baker, Edinson Volquez, Carlos Quentin, Mark Kotsay

Key Subtractions: Mat Latos, Aaron Harang, Wade LeBlanc, Heath Bell, Mike Adams, Ryan Ludwick, Brad Hawpe, Anthony Rizzo, Chad Qualls

Position Breakdown:

1st Base-Yonder Alonso might be manning this spot for the next five years. The line drive hitting prospect should be able to make good use of spacious Petco field. Last year in limited at bats (88) with the Reds he posted a .943 OPS. In 2011 the Padres got good work from Giant castoff Jesus Guzman (139 OPS+) so they will be hard pressed to better that in 2012. Jesus Guzman is now a great man off the bench giving them some pop and average who can play 1st or left field.

2nd Base-Orlando Hudson is the starter but may not be healthy enough for opening day. No one is shocked. Even when healthy Hudson is just a shell of himself these days. Padres picked the wrong time to finally give Orlando Hudson a long term deal when they inked him to a three year deal in 2010. If Hudson is not playing, then one time starting shortstop Everth Cabrerra or utility man Andy Parrino should get the call.

Shortstop-Jason Bartlett is back for his second season with the Padres. Bartlett now has five season under his belt as a starting shortstop. One of those years was not like the others as he posted a 132 OPS+ in 2009. The other four years look like 89, 83, 89, and 76. He's not much of an offensive player, provides some speed, little average, zero power, little on base.

3rd Base- Chase Headley has not quite lived upto his pedigree but at least he has not been the bust that so many 3rd base prospects in the 21st century have turned into. Plus he's actually able to play 3rd base. On the surface his stats don't impress, four home runs, only 33 extra base hits and a slug % of .389 don't scream above average. Yet his OBP of .374 coupled with the park effects of Petco turned those stats into a 120 OPS+, good enough for the second tier of 3rd baseman in the NL.

Catcher- Nick Hundley was given the full time gig in 2011 but battled some injuries. When he played he hit at a high level putting up the highest wOBA for NL catchers at .354. Most teams would be happy to have Nick Hundley as their everyday catcher, the Padres however traded for top catching prospect Yasmani Grandal.

Left Field - Belongs to Carlos Quentin but shock of all shocks he's already hurt. So it looks like two ex first baseman Kyle Blanks and Jesus Guzman will share time until Carlos is ready. Blanks and Guzman have hit a combined 196 minor league home runs. They might be a perfect offensive platoon but Maybin better be ready to cover some ground. Mark Kotsay might wriggle in some at bats as he always does but for now Kotsay is on the DL giving one time stud prospect Jeremy Hermida one more chance .

Right Field- Looks like Will Venable and Chris Denorfia are in a platoon here at the start of the year. Venable had a down year in 2011 after showing some promise in 2010. He has speed ala Tony Gywnn Junior as his 55 thefts with only 10 caught stealing attests. Venable also has some pop with 34 home runs over the last three years. Denorfia has been one of the better fourth outfielders for the past few years. Bit of a Reed Johnson type. Not good enough at anything to start but is usually the best player on the bench.

Center Field- Cameron Maybin is going to have a hard time putting up gaudy stats in Petco but he has skills and at only 25 may be reaching the point where he takes those skills and starts to put his mark on the game. Cameron pilfered 40 steals last year getting caught only eight times. He's a ground ball machine which plays into his speed but limits his power potential.

Starting Pitching for our Series:

Gary Scott has a detailed look at the four starters we will be facing this series:

Game 1: Edinson Volquez gets the call for the opener but he's hardly the best pitcher on the staff. Maybe's he's the sacrificial lamb to Kershaws lion. Per Gary:

Volquez throws a 93mph four seam fastball only 35% of the time while using a changeup (26%), cutter (21%) and sinker (17%). His last good year was 2008 with the Reds, and that year he threw his fastball 60% of the time and didn't use a sinker. I'm not sure if using a sinker was in response to his well-known lack of command or his arm surgery in 2009.

Best hitter against Kershaw is Orlando Hudson with a .929 OPS. Only Hundley, Hudson, and possibly Everth Caberra have an OPS > .700 against Clayton. The Dodgers will be missing their top three historical hitters against Volquez. Kuo (1 for 1), Blake, and Carroll. No Dodger has homered against Edison, but they probably never saw a stike. In only 32 plate appearances he has walked nine Dodgers.

Game 2: Make no mistake Cory Luebke is the Padre ace and the young left hander will test the Dodger left handers Andre and Loney right off the bat. Yet all the talk of Luebke being one of the best pitchers in the NL West is probably premature, after all he has only made 20 major leagues starts, he already 27, and you have wonder if he can maintain that crazy K rate for a full 200 inning season. Baseball HQ certainly wonders:

Luebke displayed excellent skills both in relief and as as a starter in 2011, but his MLEs suggest it may be premature to believe in the breakout:

  • He pushed his Dom to elite levels in 2011, but his previous results suggest a repeat of that degree of excellence is unlikely.
  • He was fortunate as a reliever in terms of H%, LD% and hr/f, but regressed to expected levels after entering the rotation.
  • Has shown flashes of extreme GB% tendencies in the past. Generating more ground balls would help to retain 2011's effectiveness.

At age 27, Luebke is a bit older than most emerging SPs and his MLEs suggest that his elite Dom in 2011 may be a product of a small sample rather than a late bloomer breaking out. Still, he improved his Ctl and his Dom and Cmd are on a two-year positive trend. There is enough skill here to make this southpaw an intriguing target in 2012, but based on his career thus far expecting a repeat of his 2011 performance is likely expecting too much.

That said, Luebke is a fun pitcher to watch, combining dominance and control. So far in his young career Luebke has owned the Dodgers shutting them down to the tune of a .582 OPS in 79 plate appearances. Matt Kemp tops the leaderboard with three hits all doubles. Not surprisingly, Andre is 0 - 5 and James 1 - 7. Chad Billingsley also owns the Padres shutting them down with a OPS allowed of only .574 in 184 plate appearances. Chad has given up only one home run to them (Chase Headley). Looks like a pitching duel.

Game 3: Dustin Moseley is a soft tossing right (89 MPH) who throws his fastball less than 50% of the time. His nickname is placeholder.

Moseley has added a sinker and cutter while ditching his four seam fastball. He lives in the high 80's with his sinker, high 70's with his curveball (thrown 21% of the time), high 80's with his cutter (21%) and will mix in an 82mph changeup once in awhile.

Game 4: Clayton Richard takes the mound for game four. Another left hander for Andre and James to show Donnie they are not platoon players. Richard pitched 200 innings in 2010 but was only able to follow that up with 99 in 2011 as he was shut down in July. The K rate plummeted from a respectable 6.8 to 4.8. Bit of a question mark, he's not a sub 4.0 pitcher but coming of an injury I'm not sure what he is right now. Per Gary

his main offspeed pitches are an 83mph changeup he throws 15% of the time and an 84mph slider he throws 21% of the time. He tends to throw his two and four seam fastballs to righties but not much at all to lefties. Likewise, he completely bags his changeup against lefties, preferring the slider as the offspeed pitch of choice.

Bullpen: Huston Street is the new closer following in the huge footsteps of Heath Bell who followed the premier closer of his era Trevor Hoffman. You would think it would be strange for Street going from Coors to Petco as he gets to watch long fly balls die instead of kill.

It seems like forever that the Padres have had killer setup men, but Luke Gregerson was not that man in 2011. Luke lost his strike out pitch dropping from a K rate of 10.23 in 2010 to 5.5 in 2011. I expect Andrew Cashner to be the man for them this year. The hard throwing Cashner was originally slated to be a rotation fixture for the Cubs headed into the spring of 2010. A strained rotator cuff derailed that train, and when the Cubs offered him up for the power hitting Rizzo the Padres bit. Cashner can hit 95 on the fastball, 87 with the slider, and also shows off a changeup.

Joe Thatcher should be the main left handed pitcher. Others showing up during the four game series will be Ernersto Frieri their own version of Kenley Jansen who has struck out 119 hitters in 96 innings. Chad Qualls is gone, I think Anthony Bass will make the opening day roster. At this point the final bullpen spot was a battle between everyone's favorite Micah Owing and some dude named Brad Brach. Rotowire had this to say about Brach:

With an 11.04 K/9IP and an outstanding 7.25 K/BB over three years and 223 innings in the minors, Brach is certainly in line for a bigger test than just the September callup he received last year. He regularly hits 93 mph on the gun with his fastball and uses a nasty 84 mph slider to keep hitters fishing outside the strike zone.

Late breaking news Micah Owings and his career .510 slugg% have made the team. Yes, he would be the best pinch hitter on the Dodgers if he was our 12th pitcher.

Series Preview:

I don't know how the four game series will go but I do expect Clayton to throw a gem, after that is is a crap shoot if the re-tooled bullpen can get the game to Guerra of if Guerra can hold it from that point. If we don't win Saturday the season is lost.

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